A look at Linkwell Health, Spark Capital’s health care play

(Courtesy of Linkwell Health)
(Courtesy of Linkwell Health)

Boston-based Spark Capital has gained notoriety (and huge returns) for its investments in Twitter, Oculus, Tumblr, and other consumer tech plays. A look at the firm’s portfolio shows little in the sphere of technology for consumer health, however.

There’s RunKeeper, of course, but the Spark investment that’s most directly tied to the health care industry is a little-known but highly promising Needham company, Linkwell Health.

The firm is uniquely positioned to capitalize on a major shift in the health insurance industry in recent years, according to Spark general partner Alex Finkelstein.

In the past, he said, health insurers didn’t have to worry about marketing to consumers. With the movement to state health exchanges, however, health insurers are recognizing the importance of consumerization.

Linkwell Health is focused on creating content to engage consumers about their health and delivering coupons for healthy foods that’s paired with the content.

Content to improve health

Linkwell employs a team of eight writers to create content for health plan direct mailings, websites, emails, and mobile apps. The content is targeted based on their particular issues and their stage of life (the 65+ crowd sees different content from the young and invincible crowd).

What Linkwell does is “nudge consumer behavior,” said Gregg Michaelson, chief executive at Linkwell Health. And the results have been encouraging: Redemption rates for coupons are several times the industry average, he said.

“The opportunity is to really help health plans shift from being insurance providers to being health and wellness companies,” Michaelson said.

Michaelson was previously chief marketing officer at Rodale Inc., whose publications include Men’s Health, Women’s Health, and Runner’s World. Those sorts of publications have to a large degree become the authorities in health and wellness as the insurers had been absent from the scene, Michaelson said.

“I think [the insurers] can take back much of what they allowed other companies to take from them,” he said.

Expansion

Linkwell currently works on behalf of 17 health plans and markets to 20 million of the consumers served by those plans. The goal is to double the number of health plans and dramatically increase the number of consumers served in the next 12 to 18 months, Michaelson said.

Founded in 2007, Linkwell Health began as a direct-mail marketing services company for health plans before shifting to its current model about three years ago.

The company has raised $19 million in funding, most recently an $11 million Series C in January 2013 led by health benefits firm Wellpoint and including Spark and Boston-based HLM Venture Partners.

Along with its Needham office, Linkwell also has an office in New York City, where its writers are located.

Read more: Spark Capital officially announces $375 million Spark Growth fund

Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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